National Bullying Prevention Month: Putting a Stop to Cyberbullying

Worldwide, schools remain partially or completely closed in efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. Since April, the Internet has become an essential tool for transitioning classes online in light of the pandemic. Through Internet use, students are able to remain connected with their teachers and peers, participate in live presentations, and access learning material.

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Yet for all its merits, the Internet can be a dangerous place for many children and teens, as a darker side of school life has also moved online: Cyberbullying. Today, we’ll look at what cyberbullying is, what social media giants are doing about it, how to recognize the signs of cyberbullying, practical tips for families to prevent cyberbullying, and what organizations can do to get involved in National Bullying Prevention Month.

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What is Cyberbullying

This particular brand of bullying is the act of using computers and smartphones to make another individual feel anxious, depressed, shamed, ridiculed, scared, hurt, or angry, sometimes to the point of having suicidal thoughts.

Cyberbullying includes the posting of information or photos on Instagram or other social media networks with the intention of hurting or embarrassing another person. Sending hateful, threatening, or aggressive texts, as well as spreading malicious rumors publicly through group texts, social networks, live streaming apps, and social media postings are also considered acts of cyberbullying.

According to start-up L1ght’s recent report, incidents of cyberbullying grew by 70 percent between March and April of this year. This increase in cyberbullying may be attributed to frustrations from being stuck at home, combined with fear and uncertainty exacerbated by the pandemic. Many students have and will continue to search for an outlet for these negative emotions, and unfortunately, cyberbullying is all too often an avenue for venting.

Regardless of the reason for cyberbullying, this behavior can take many terrifying, unacceptable forms. And in an effort to fight all forms of bullying, the PACER Center established October as National Bullying Prevention Month in 2006. This October marks the 14th year of month-long initiatives to remind parents, teachers, students, and businesses that we all have an integral role to play in ending cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying is an alarming issue in the digitally-connected, physically-isolated world of today. A cyberbully can quickly and anonymously share a post online that can have widespread viral social reach. The results can often be traumatic, damaging an impressionable young person’s reputation, self-esteem, and relationships. And the longer harassing posts remain online, the more irreparable this damage can be.

How to Recognize Cyberbullying

Data collected by Guard Child advocates reveals that 65 percent of kids between the ages of eight and 14 have been involved in a cyberbullying incident. And in the past year, 15 percent of U.S. high school students reported being cyberbullied, with the majority of incidents occurring on social media. In fact, young people were found by Ditch the Label to be twice as likely to experience cyberbullying on Instagram than on any other social media network, and over 50 percent of young Facebook users reported that they have experienced bullying on the network.

National Bullying Prevention Month advocates remind the public that inclusion and respect across all virtual and physical campuses is the first step in combating cyberbullying. Working on behalf of children, youth, and young adults with disabilities, the PACER Center started National Bullying Prevention Month with the understanding that students may not have the courage to report bullying incidents. According to Dr. Adam Pletter, child psychologist and advisor to the WebPurify moderation team, parents may not be aware of the subtle signs that their children may exhibit when being cyberbullied (cyber-harassed), such as:

  • Uneasiness or anxiety when receiving a text message or notification
  • Reluctance to hand over their device
  • Agitation or isolation after using their device or the Internet
  • Changes in mood, behavior, sleep patterns, appetite, or grades at school

Statistics show that only 52 percent of parents supervise their children’s Internet use moderately, and 20 percent don’t ever monitor use. This opens the door for dangerous interactions and damaging posts. And once harmful content circulates on the Internet, it can potentially resurface at a later point, causing further emotional hurt, relationship issues, and even career complications.

In light of these statistics, individuals, businesses, and social media platforms are encouraged to get involved in community efforts to celebrate diversity, educate families, remain vigilant, and ultimately put an end to bullying.

What Social Media Giants Are Doing About Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is still a complicated problem running rampant online, and putting an end to it will require the concerted efforts of educated families and proactive social media platforms. While some platforms fail to properly monitor for child endangerment and cyberbullying, other tech companies have voiced their intention to address these issues.

Since 2018, Facebook has hired thousands of moderators to analyze content and determine if it violates the network’s rules of conduct, a move that came on the heels of scrutiny that the platform faced for not providing enhanced security for users that experienced cyberbullying.

Later that year, Instagram announced its intention to address cyberbullying using artificial intelligence (AI) to smartly detect the behavior in photos posted on the social network. According to head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, the social media giant now uses machine learning technology to proactively detect cyberbullying in photos and captions, sending them to its Community Operations team for review.

How AI Takes on Cyberbullying

Despite the preventative measures that social media networks make to keep kids safe, creative cyberbullies are still finding ways to bypass the tech. And with the influx of content posted to social media by all those working and studying from home every day,
cyberbullying content can be hard to identify.

Although it’s not easy to detect this destructive content, it is still possible to catch it. Our content moderation experts work behind the scenes 24/7 to filter profanity, the spread of harmful content, and instances of cyberbullying from popular social media apps, children’s sites, and in-game chats.

WebPurify uses a hybrid approach to combating cyberbullying. We combine AI and live moderation in one powerful platform to identify user-generated images and video that are high-risk, reducing the spread of harmful content and decreasing incidences of cyberbullying.

The most effective way to moderate content for cyberbullying is to think like a bully. When WebPurify’s live moderators encounter an image of a teen boy with the term ‘heartbreaker’ written across it, they are trained to suspect sarcasm and analyze the post to determine if cyberbullying is at play.

Bullying Prevention Month - 10 Ways that Parents Can Keep Their Kids Safe From Cyberbullying

In 2019, WebPurify stepped into the role of Gold Sponsors of Stop Cyberbullying Day. And to mark National Bullying Prevention Month 2020, we’re sharing some practical tips to help prevent cyberbullying. When it comes to cyberbullying, here are the top 10 ways that parents can keep their kids safe when online:

1) Educate Yourself and Your Family on What Cyberbullying Looks Like

Understanding how Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and other apps work can open your eyes to the ways in which children can be taken advantage of online, empowering you to have smarter conversations with your own children. Take the time to discuss the dangers of the Internet with them, and be open and honest about how children and teens are using the Internet to bully others, what’s considered bullying, and how to avoid problematic incidents. Sit down and listen to your children’s questions and responses.

2) Create Guidelines to Being a Digital Citizen

Teach your children the difference between acceptable, positive content and harmful content, and discourage them from posting content that could offend, embarrass, or hurt others. Explain to your child the importance of distancing themself from those who bully others, and encourage them to respond to mean comments by saying something kind and positive online instead.

3) Set Reasonable Time and Usage Limits

Be clear about your family’s Internet rules. This should include what your children are permitted to do online, what’s off limits, and how long they can be online each day. Since it’s easy to lose track of time when online, put limits on their phone and computer time by setting a timer for specific apps like Instagram, or general social media time.

4) Set Parental Controls

From computers and iOS, to Android devices and gaming consoles, parental controls are an available and valuable tool for cyberbullying prevention. Use them to disable photo and video streaming, adjusting times as necessary. Between 8pm and 8am is ideal, but if 12 hours seems unrealistic, disable live streaming from 8pm to 2am to avoid exposure to both cyber bullying and to adult content.

5) Take Precautions with Live Streaming Platforms

Explaining to your child that they should never mention where they are posting or live streaming from is imperative, but further precautions should be taken to protect your child or teen. Posting photos or streaming video from a location that is recognizable is also not advisable. Piles of books, bills, magazines, and even a t-shirt or street sign could give away a child’s address, school name, location, and interests. Ensure that your child understands that these details should not be part of the live video that they share.

Be certain that location services on their mobile phone or other platform are not automatically tagging their location. When these services are on, viewers can find out exactly where your child is.

6) Explain the Dangers of Meeting Online Friends in Person, Without a Parent

TikTok and other video-sharing apps and sites are still not able to guarantee that they will protect minors by suspending the accounts of anyone sending inappropriate messages to others, including messages requesting “in real life” meetings. Go over the dangers of “in real life” meetings with individuals that your child or teen met on the Internet.

Convey that these dangers extend beyond cyberbullies to online predators who impersonate kids to persuade them into meeting up. If your child is intent on meeting an online friend in person, go with them and make sure the meeting is in a very public place. Instruct children and teens to say no to giving out personal information.

Under no circumstances should your kids give out their address, phone number, birthdate, or other personal information.

7) Spend Family Time Online

Look for opportunities to spend some time online with your child. Suggest playing an online game together. Offer to help them do research for homework or work on an online assignment together. By doing so, you’ll learn more about how they interact on social media networks and if there are any signs of cyberbullying.

Ask your kids to go over their list of contacts on a regular basis, both on social media apps, email accounts, and on their phone. This will allow you to learn more about the individuals whom they communicate with. Randomly spot check these communications with your children. And remind your family that followers and fans are not always the “friends” that they appear to be, no matter how cool they seem online.

8) Be On the Lookout for Fake Accounts

It’s not unheard of for kids to use an online account belonging to someone else in order to bypass filters. Remember, bullies can be creative, harassing other kids from anonymous accounts to avoid being caught. Teens will even create more than one social media account, and the use of private accounts or finstas (fake Instagram accounts) may make it harder to detect incidents of cyberbullying. Be on the lookout for fake accounts and spot check your own child’s account to ensure that they aren’t using a screen name that is suspicious.

9) Stay Vigilant and Supportive

Be alert and aware of questionable activity. Remember the signs of cyberbullying, such as agitation or anxiety when receiving a text message or notification. And don’t be afraid to ask your child or teen if something is bothering them!

Although your kids may be hesitant to talk initially, be patient and ask again. Remind your family that they should never be scared to come to you with any questions or concerns. Emphasize that you are here to help, without judgement, should your child be exposed to something online that makes them uncomfortable or makes them feel threatened or assaulted.

10) Make a Pledge

Create a family Internet contract outlining different expectations for both you and your kids. As a parent, your pledge might promise that no matter what, your child will not lose internet privileges, which is the main reason that kids choose not to speak up about cyberbullying. Convey in your pledge that as a parent, you won’t overreact if your child tells you about a problem they are facing online. Additionally, the pledge should communicate that as a family, you will all work together to solve any problem that arises and prevent it from occurring again.

How Your Company Can Get Involved

Are you a business looking to get involved with National Bullying Prevention Month activities? Here are a few steps that you can take today:

Cyberbullying can have a damaging effect on children and teens, and in the spirit of National Bullying Prevention Month, it’s important to take a few minutes today to talk about the signs of online abuse. From families to companies that allow live-streaming on their site, we can all work together to put an end to cyberbullying.

Learn more about bullying prevention resources at www.pacer.org/bullying/nbpm and recommendations on how to parent in the digital age at iparent101.com.
Visit www.webpurify.com to explore WebPurify’s profanity filtering technologies and other content moderation services.